Kategoriarkiv: Clothing

Travel Advice and Hotel Etiquette for Ladies in the 1800s

Eduard Gaertner ( 1801-1877) Unter den Linden mit Oper
Eduard Gaertner (1801-1877) Unter den Linden mit Oper

Berlin, 3 July 1847

”In a couple of exquisitely decorated rooms in Hôtel de Rome on Boulevard Unter den Linden, yours truly is sitting with pen in hand to recall from memory the wonderments I have seen since my arrival in the great Prussian capital.”

This is Augusta’s first description of a hotel on the European continent during her and her mother’s journey down to Prague.  There are not many remarks regarding hotels in Augusta’s diary but Hôtel de Rome must have been the most impressive hotel. There, they engaged a servant to show them the attractions of Berlin.

Two days later, they arrived at Hôtel de Saxe in Dresden – the most luxurious hotel in town.

”Our stay here at Hôtel de Saxe is very nice and I would say elegant, if I had not just arrived from Berlin, with its fabulous, luxurious furnishings. There are certainly not, as at Hôtel de Rome, six or seven doormen in livery to greet you on the stairs and to take the things you carry. I have to admit that these elegant and conversable domestics made me embarrassed upon my arrival in the great Prussian capital. Here in Dresden, you miss the elegant, carpeted vestibules and staircases, this wealth of stuffed armchairs, canapés, and sofas; however, Hôtel de Saxe, although not as brilliant as Hôtel de Rome, is both gentile and comfortable.”

What could one expect from luxury hotels in the mid-1800s and what was expected of the guests?

In 1860, the American author Florence Heartly published The Ladies Book of Etiquette, and Manual of Politeness. The book includes chapters on Travelling and on How to behave at a hotel.

“After breakfast, pass an hour or two in the parlor, unless you are going out, whilst the chambermaid puts your room in order.”

It just so happens that while writing this blog today,  I am staying at a hotel in Dubai and Heartly’s suggestion sounded like a good idea. Heeding the advice, I took Florence Heartly’s book and Augusta’s diary with me and headed for the “parlor” (aka, the mall connected to the hotel). Heartly’s second advice also sounded good: “It is best always to carry writing materials with you.”  I skipped her next etiquette rule for hotels: “Never sit down to the piano uninvited, unless you are alone in the parlor.” Instead, I ordered a cappuccino and started reading Heartly’s book – highlighting advice that Kerstin and I might need for our Göta Canal cruise and our train journey through Germany (with the exception of those regarding an escort):

Regarding your escort

  • If you travel under the escort of a gentleman, give him as little trouble as possible … [!]
  • It is best, when starting upon your journey, to hand your escort a sufficient sum of money to cover all your expenses … [hmm]
  • Find out the position and number of the stateroom occupied by your escort, in case you wish to find him during the night. [that is, if you were able to secure a stateroom to sleep in on the steamboat]

Regarding sea sickness

Avoiding seasickness by reading a book.
  • …never leave home without a straw-covered bottle of brandy, and another of camphor, in your carpet bag.
  • Try to occupy yourself with looking at the country through which you are passing, or with a book.

Regarding your luggage

  • Have a strong pocket made in your upper petticoat, and in that carry your money, only reserving in your dress-pocket a small sum for incidental expenses.
  • In your travelling satchel, carry an oil skin bag containing your sponge, tooth- and nail-brushes, and some soap.
  • Have also a calico bag with hair brush and comb, some pins, hair pins, a small mirror, and some towels. In this satchel, carry also some crackers or sandwiches…
  • In your carpet bag, carry a large shawl, and if you will travel by night, … your night clothes and what clean linen you may require …
  • If you carry a novel …, it is best to carry the book in your satchel.
  • If you are to pass the night in the cars, carry a warm woolen or silk hood – that you may take off your bonnet at night. No one can sleep comfortable in a bonnet.
  • Carry also … a large shawl to wrap round your feet.

At the hotel

  • When you arrive at the hotel, inquire at once for the proprietor. Tell him your name and address, and ask him to conduct you to a good room…
  • It is best to mention the time when you wish to breakfast, dine or sup.
  • If you stay more than one day … request one of the waiters always to meet you as you enter, and wait upon you to your seat.
  • When you have finished your meal, cross the room quietly; if you go into the parlor, do not attract attention by a hasty entrance ….
  • A lady’s dress, when alone at a hotel, should be of the most modest kind.
  • Never, even at supper, appear alone at the table with bare arms or neck.
  • If you wish for a carriage, ring, and let the waiter order one for you.

Those were Heartly’s advice for travelling ladies. Augusta and her mother probably knew all about travelling etiquette. Now, Kerstin and I will also know what is expected of us when we embark on Augusta’s Journey.

William Powell Frith (1819-1909 ) The Railway Station

In need of a hatbox

Final Hatbox
Final Hatbox

I have been in need of a hatbox ever since I successfully constructed a bonnet. Kerstin already has two hat boxes – one that she made from a round IKEA gift box and one that she received from a good friend. And of course I really wanted to make one too.

This week we visited my cousin and talked about Augusta’s Journey and of obtaining material for making an 1850s wardrobe. We have been getting most of that (lace, fabric, etc) from thrift store curtains and table clothes. Relatives have also given us boxes of lace and turn-of-the-century night gowns. We are so excited about getting everything made for our Göta Canal cruise at the end of May.

“I think I have a hatbox in the basement”, said my cousin, “it doesn’t look very nice but if you can use it, you can have it.”

The hatbox was indeed interesting with shipping information and stamps on it. The box was shipped in 1931 from Hartley & Boedeker Ltd Manufacturers in Manchester, England to Hadar Carlsson’s hat store in Köping, Sweden.

The postage consisted of 3 stamps with George V image and a Swedish stamp asking for an additional 10 öre as the postage had not been enough for the shipment. So before I did anything to this hatbox, I saved the labels and stamps.

Then the fun began. First, I had to make a new lid as the original one was not in the greatest shape. That was done using cardboard and glue.

For coverage, Kerstin suggested that we use fabric for bookbinding to cover the outside and nice bookbinding paper from Washington DC for the interior. To cover the lid, I used a remnant piece of IKEA furniture fabric.

Last but not least, I used an old leather belt to hold the lid in place.

Dress Detectives

– Do you remember when we tried on Augusta’s dresses in the attic of Aunt Agneta? Kerstin asked me.

No … I didn’t remember that. I remember staying in the 18-century washhouse by the lake shore in which our aunt had lived during our childhood summers.

– Sure you were there too! It was probably in 1977. There was an old trunk there with two dresses. They were both beautiful ball gowns. One was made of pink silk taffeta and the other one was a purple velvet dress. And they were so small – there were bones sewn into the bodice and I couldn’t even fit into it because the waist was so small – and I was just a teenager!

I wish I remembered, but I didn’t. So, were they Augusta’s gowns and where were they now? A few phone calls to cousins shed some light on the dresses. The ones Kerstin had tried on were probably gone. But there was still a suitcase with dresses that our aunt had kept, and our cousin invited us to come and see them.

Nestled in tissue paper were lace blouses, silk shoes, finely knitted stockings, lace cuffs, parasols, and dresses! The first dress we uncovered was a bright purple, silk taffeta dress. It had a form-fitted bodice and a separate skirt. Kerstin and I examined it as if we were some dress detectives. Could it be Augusta’s?

First we looked at the skirt and realized right away that the model was later than those in the 1850s and probably even Edwardian. The bodice, with a high neck, also pointed to a later date.

And then we realized that some seems were machine stitched.

The first European sewing machine company was founded in 1863 and in Sweden, Husqvarna started making sewing machines in 1872.

Could it have been Augusta’s daughter, Gerda’s? Gerda was born in 1854 and if it had been hers, she would probably have worn in around 1874. We all agreed that it was not likely Gerda’s as she was not very tall, and this dress was made for a tall person. The silk shoes in the trunk were also a European size 40 (US 9.5).

If it was not Gerda’s could it have been her daughter, Eva’s? Eva, our grandmother, was born in 1884 and if it would have been hers, she might have worn it around 1904.

The dress had a train in the back which would have brushed the floor. This was typical of the first decade of the 1900s. The high neck was also popular at this time.

And looking at fashion plates from 1907-1908, there are some very similar styles.

Admitting that we are only amateurs at fashion history, we do believe that the clothes in the trunk belonged to our grandmother and not our great-great grandmother, but that is also really cool!

And who knows, maybe someone in the family has a photograph of Eva in this dress!!!

My Valentine’s Dress

A couple of weeks ago, I finished my Victorian laced corset and the corded petticoat. Time to make the 1847 dress using my beautiful fabric from Sweden. All blogs tell you that you should make a test dress first in some cheap cotton to make sure the pattern works.

Well, I didn’t even have a pattern. After having tried for a week to create one, I decided to spend $18 on a well-reviewed pattern suitable for the California Gold Rush, the Mexican American War, and the Oregon Trail. For this dress I would need almost 7 yards of fabric. Did I really want to spend that much money on a test dress?

I checked out thrift stores instead and had some luck.  I found several pieces of a pretty fabric with lots of ruffles – maybe some bedroom set? For $4 I got 3 Laura Ashley ruffled curtains and a matching round table cloth – probably about 7 yards in all and perfect for the project!

The pattern arrived in the mail with 51 pages of instructions and patterns for 3 different dresses. I picked the simplest design and began the work. I had no idea how time consuming it would be – but the instructions were very clear. Unfortunately, the size I had cut out was too small and I had to adjust and add pieces here and there. I guess that is the reason for doing a test dress.

Just as in the corset, there were bones to be inserted in the bodice. But I didn’t have any more and I couldn’t find any locally either. What else could I use? The eureka moment came when I found nylon cable ties that were of the right dimension! It worked perfectly.

About 40 hours later, on Valentine’s Day, the dress was finished. Hopefully it will take less time to make the one with the expensive fabric!


How do you make a Victorian laced corset?

When we first started Augusta’s Journey, Kerstin got interested in the fashion of the time – the late 1840s – and decided to start making historically accurate clothes. Her first garment was a laced corset – the must-have underwear of the Victorian era (the original Victoria’s secret 🙂 ). It was beautiful! And it looked really professional.

“Here,” Kerstin said, “try it on! And by the way, you need to make one too.”

The next day, we spent a few hours copying the pattern she had altered from an online source (“Please be aware this pattern if free and does not come with instructions”). With the pattern, she gave me enough fabric, ribbons, and 26 fake whale bones. The next day we purchased the required hardware: a front-planchette and brass grommets.

This all happened in November.

Two weeks ago, I finally opened the bag with all the materials and put it in nice little heaps on my sewing table. And then I looked at the pictures of Kerstin’s finished corset. Somehow, I should just be able to convert all the materials into that! With no instructions.

Then I remembered that Kerstin had bought an adjustable dress form for this project, and I thought, that must be the magic trick. It would just be like the TV series Project Runway. I would simply pin up the fabric on this dummy and start making creative clothes.  That led to a week of agonizing over types of dress forms – adjustable (expensive) or cheap one-size forms (bad reviews) and lots of other alternatives. I just needed one that looked like me and one on which I could pin the fabric. Of course, you could probably make one…?  Googling “make your own dress form” led me to great video instructions of the Duct Tape Dress Form. This is where you wear a t-shirt and have someone wrap you in duct tape (no, I am not including those pictures 🙂 ). This creates a form of your body that you will then fill with pillow stuffing.  And that is what I did, and it worked beautifully.

So now there were no more excuses – I had all that I needed.

I thought it would just take a day or two. I hadn’t realized that there were 5 pattern pieces for a total of 20 fabric pieces to cut out and stitch together. Then 26 channels to be stitched for the bones, using ribbon. And then there were the questions of which seams to stitch in what order – which was up and down, left and right, inside and outside, and how should the hardware be fitted into the seams?

While getting my head around the 3D questions, I felt grateful to my mother who always let us use her sewing machine and had cartons full of fabric and ribbons for us to use; to my father who was a good role model by sewing sails and beach bags for our sailing summer vacations; to my elementary school teacher, Miss Sörén, who taught us the importance of perfect seems (I didn’t appreciate it at that time); and to my middle school teacher who taught us how to make clothes. And most of all to Kerstin, who had done all the research and provided me with a pattern and assured me that I could also make a corset, just like hers.

Day after day, the piles of materials were shrinking and the corset was taking form. Embellishment was of course up to me. Kerstin had used lace and embroidered her corset. I found some beautiful antique napkins with tatted lace in a local thrift store and used the lace on the front.

After 2 weeks, I had finally succeeded in making the laced corset.

Now for the next project: make that 1847 skirt and bodice (and then a bonnet, an umbrella, a purse, and shoes). Watching BBCs drama series about Queen Victoria is a great inspiration though, and there are so many beautiful dresses I can only dream about making.  Stay tuned  🙂 .